TOKYO In the eyes of some observers, the automotive-electronics business took one step forward and one step back this week.
Going forward, the five-company Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMIC) has voted to propose Java as an application-programming-interface (API) standard for in-car multimedia systems and has appointed Sun Microsystems and IBM as development partners.
In the setback, American Honda Motor Co. announced it would kill its electric-vehicle program because of lack of public interest in the zero-emission cars.
AMIC said on Tuesday (April 27) that its members completed and signed an operating agreement and that they opted to change the last word in the group's name from "consortium" to "collaboration" in a bid to appeal to a broader cross-section of industry.
Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, Renault and Toyota formed AMIC in October and agreed at the time to work on establishing the basic architecture for the in-car multimedia system, standardizing an API and hardware peripheral interfaces, and determining requirements for bus protocols and gateways. The group hopes to propose its guidelines to the Society of Automotive Engineers and, through SAE, to the International Standards Organization.
AMIC representatives said they decided to employ Java because they thought it essential to provide a common API platform that would not be tied to a specific operating system or CPU.
To carry out the standardization work, AMIC intends to extend membership invitations to a broad range of automakers and plans to form steering committees and development teams.
Though the standardization work will be led by automakers, Sun Microsystems and IBM will play important roles.
Because of the choice of Java, "at this point Sun Microsystems' collaboration is essential," said a spokeswoman for Toyota, which spearheaded the group's formation. IBM was chosen for "its rich know-how and experience in multimedia systems," the spokeswoman said.
As the standardization work progresses, AMIC may appoint other development partners from related industries, the spokeswoman said.
In addition to the five original members, nine automakers BMW, Fiat, Honda, Matsuda, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot Citroen, Volkswagen and Volvo have expressed a readiness to participate in the collaborative activities.
On the electric vehicle (EV) front, Honda announced it is dropping out of the nascent market, saying it had fulfilled a commitment under a California air-quality program to lease 300 vehicles over three years. Honda plans instead to concentrate on such technologies as fuel cells, and it is ramping up its $20,000 VV hybrid gasoline/electric vehicle, which uses an electric motor to boost a small gas engine. The vehicle is expected to go on sale in the United States next year.
In a related blow to the movement, utility Edison International (Los Angeles) said it is closing its EV subsidiary, which has been responsible for installing 250 charging stations in California and Arizona. It cited concerns similar to Honda's, saying electric vehicles hadn't caught on with the public. A spokeswoman said the EV subsidiary is looking for another company to take over the business.
California air-quality rules require that up to 10 percent of all new cars sold by the seven leading car companies in the state's market be classified as zero-emission vehicles, starting in 2003.
Disappointment over the decisions was high, particularly among EV enthusiasts who are also EEs.
"It's certainly a kick in the teeth," said Phil Karn, a Southern California wireless engineer and longtime electric-vehicle fan. He compared it to certain wireless technologies that had been much-hyped and then under-funded after a first product release, leaving the market starved over time for improvements.
"The cellular carriers have done this with CDPD, and Honda appears to have done the same with their EV-Plus," he said.
On the upside, five major automakers Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler and Nissan said this week that they're forging ahead with electric-car production despite American Honda's decision to pull out of the market. The five also said they will continue to develop other low-emission technologies.